Hamilton missed his chance to win the title last week at the U.S. Grand Prix when he finished third.
Lewis Hamilton cut a cheery figure after qualifying third for the Mexican Grand Prix, a race in which he need only finish seventh to clinch the Formula One title.
So it was Verstappen on top of the podium, the Ferraris behind him - but Hamilton in fourth place got the title he wanted.
The Dutch 21-year-old had dominated every free practice session and was set to become the youngest Formula One driver ever to start on pole position when Ricciardo swept in and grabbed it at the finish.
For all Vettel's efforts in Mexico, it is mistakes earlier in the season that have ultimately cost him a better run at a first title since 2013.
"The start was the key", Verstappen said. A furious jump off the line beat Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton to the first corner, and Verstappen was off and running toward an easy race for his fifth career victory.
Hamilton's fifth championship arguably ranks among his best. "Even today, the starts have been good all weekend, the practice starts, and for the race start, it's all over the place", he said.
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A defeated Ricciardo took aim at his vehicle after a hydraulics failure forced him out of the race with only 10 laps to go while in podium position.
Although he ended the day with the drivers' title, it was not a race Hamilton will look back on fondly.
From there, Hamilton just made sure he got his vehicle over the line, and was promoted one place after Ricciardo's engine blew up with 10 laps remaining.
Vettel botched an overtaking move on the safety vehicle restart, ultimately dropping to fourth, and then Bottas shredded a rear tyre on debris, gifting Hamilton a win, the lead of the championship and crucial momentum that was backed up in Spain in the following race.
Horner sympathised with Ricciardo's plight and is hopeful that the Australian's fortunes can turn around in the last two events before he departs for Renault.
The rivalry within the Red Bull ranks has not escaped Vettel's attention either.
"I don't think "frustration" is the word anymore", Ricciardo told reporters after suffering his sixth retirement in the past 11 grands prix, and eighth of the season. It wasn't won here, it was won through a lot of hard work through many races.
"Everything feels hopeless. Honestly, now where I am, I don't see the point of coming on Sunday, I don't see the point of doing the next two races".